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Chris Welford

Sixth Sense Consulting


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How to stay sane at work


1. All development starts with self-awareness. The greater the level of self-awareness, the more personal change is possible and the more that it will stick.

Make sure that management and leadership development is more than education and knowledge acquisition. Build in a self-discovery component and encourage reflective learning that places the prime responsibility for development on the learners themselves.

Self-awareness is a common element of executive development programmers but less so at middle management level or below, where the focus tends to be more on training and building skills. But it’s far easier to nip an issue in the bud at an earlier point in someone’s career because they tend to be more receptive to admitting weakness or that something requires attention.

2. Understanding your personal architecture is important (personality, motivation, reactions to pressure, problem-solving style, etc.) but nothing is set in stone.

There are some tools and techniques on the market that are helpful but they require a skilled facilitator to be effective. My advice to HR is to invest in some really good-quality assessment: the sort that goes beyond surface behaviours and helps people really understand what makes them tick. A skilled assessor can also help dig below the surface to help individuals appreciate things they did not know about themselves. A lens being shone on you from somewhere else is an effective way to reveal blind spots.

3. Effective problem-solving is as much emotional as it is rational.

Teach people about emotional intelligence. If nothing else, get them to read “The Chimp Paradox” which gives us a sense of how we can work with our emotions and better understand ourselves.

The ability to put across messages in a positive and compelling way which impacts people at a level that isn’t purely rational makes communication far more effective and more likely to be remembered.

Of course the idea of us having an internal chimp is just one metaphor. We are emotional creatures and we act on our feelings. If we didn’t, there would be no brand allegiance and little to make sense of in employee engagement studies. Pick a metaphor that works for your culture.

4. Personal effectiveness is about being in the moment and recognising when historic patterns of thinking and feeling are playing out.

We all replay past patterns when we interact with people. Whilst the result of this is usually benign, it can sometimes result in problems. Quite a lot of coaching situations arise because people feel struck.

They have probably tried different approaches to no avail. So if you are brokering coaching for a member of staff, it’s essential to select coaches who are capable of discovering the origins of intractable behaviour.

5. You have a pattern in the way that you form relationships with people. Recognising this pattern can be very helpful.

Use a tool like FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relationships Orientation) to help people understand how they relate to others. This is a simple concept based on the premise that when people get together in a group, they are looking to obtain three things: affection/openness, control and inclusion. Such an approach provides basic building blocks and a language that helps people to understand their interactions with others. It’s also a good basis for team development sessions which focus on the dynamics of relationships.

6. It’s easy to get into psychological games or dramas at work. So understanding how to deal with difficult personalities should be the cornerstone of all management development.

Make sure that dealing with difficult or challenging personalities is part of all management development. Encourage a values-driven culture in which people blow the whistle on bullying, harassment and unacceptable behaviour.

As an HR or training and development professional, be aware of situations where you can get roped into a dramatic interchange. Remain neutral and stand outside the drama triangle. Understand the dynamics of the game and don’t play the saviour archetype.

7. Too much attention is paid to addressing weaknesses, many of which are resistant to change. Development should address strengths and potential.

Think about development planning. It’s not all about SMART targets. Adopt a strengths-based approach instead. The Pendleton and Furham model outlined in Leadership All You Need To Know is a good approach. It concludes that investing in the development of fragile strengths and resistant weaknesses can be a waste of time. Look instead at unexploited potential if there is a limited development spend.

8. We tend to have a signature response to stress and pressure. Learn how to manage this.

Ensure resilience training is on the agenda for everyone, at every level. Early warning systems and prevention are better than a remedial cure. If people are aware of what happens to them at a physical, psychological and emotional level when they are under stress or pressure, they can learn self-protective mechanisms to help them to manage such scenarios.

9. We all have a set of scripts for how life inside and outside of work should pan out. Understanding these rules for living is essential.

The thing that HR can do and has done very well through the diversity agenda is to help people to deal with limiting beliefs. Again, select coaches who can help people to fully optimise their potential. Not all coaches can! Beware of coaching that is just another version of performance management. Create the reflective space where people can explore their vulnerabilities, their fears of failure or what else is holding them back. This is addressed in more detail in my new book – Staying Sane in Business.

10.  Above all else, the qualities of self-acceptance, flexibility and a sense of purpose will give people the greatest resilience.

Get your people to read Meaning Inc. It’s no accident that it was best seller and its message is still fresh. It is based on the premise that we can withstand a lot of stress and pressure if we have an overriding sense of purpose. Make sure that people can see a connection between their work and what the organisation does. Design jobs so that they have meaning and make performance management much more than a process that drives pay. Consider uncoupling bonus schemes and pay from appraisals. Was that link ever a good thing?

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Chris Welford


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